Pasta and grain salads have so much potential for variety! But the cold pesto pasta with mondo veggo chunks, or the soggy tabbouli, are often uninspired. Then Robert and Sonya introduced me to the joy of couscous with fruits and nuts. Sooo gooooood.
Recently I made a quinoa salad with similar ingredients: Juice for tartness, olive oil, shallots, prunes, apricots, pine nuts, mint, cilantro… The use of conjunctions in this salad exhibits its inherent variety. And you’re likely to end up with something quite tasty.
If this isn’t served cold or at room temperature, does this mean it’s a kind of pilaf? According to the definitions I’ve seen, pilaf is usually made from rice or bulgar wheat that’s usually been browned in butter or oil. So I’ll stick with the salad label.
- 2 cups whole wheat couscous: Use the small or regular granular size, not the bigger pearl one (a.k.a., Israeli) size.
- salt, to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups boiling water
- Put the couscous and salt in a large, heat-proof bowl. Stir in the olive oil so the couscous is evenly coated. This will help reduce clumping as it absorbs the water.
- Pour the hot water over the couscous, stir a little bit, then place a plate (or plastic wrap) on top. Let it sit about 15 to 20 minutes to absorb the water.
- Fluff up and stir the couscous with a large spoon or fork. Proceed to the flavor, color and texture section.
- 1 cup quinoa
- salt, to taste
- barely 2 cups water
- Rinse the quinoa under cold water until the water is clear. This gets rid of the bitter saponin coating on the grains. Two or three times ought to do it.
- Using the power that is the rice cooker, place the quinoa, water and salt in it and cook…until done. For my crazy Neuro-Fuzzy device, the “brown rice” setting works nicely.
- When done, the germ on the quinoa grain expands outward as a cute spring. Fluff and stir, and dump into a large bowl. Continue onward.
Flavor, color & texture
- Choose an allium: 1 small sweet onion, 2 to 3 scallions (green and white parts), 2 cloves of shallots, or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped.
- (optional) 1 tablespoon orange, lemon or lime zest
- 1/4 cup orange, lemon or lime juice
- 1 to 2 teaspoons honey, if using lemon or lime juice
- 1 to 2 tablespoons rice vinegar; do try other vinegars —the rice one is milder, less likely to clash with the other items.
- 2 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil; a small portion of this could be garlic infused oil (use an onion, scallions or shallots instead of garlic cloves, in that case).
- Optional spices: 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, or some combination thereof.
- Possible fruit to add: 1/2 to 3/4 cup dried fruit, such as prunes, raisins, dried apricots or dates; chop larger fruit into smaller bits.
- Possible vegetables to add: 1/2 to 3/4 cup zucchini or cucumber, cored and diced; fava beans or diced carrots, already cooked; peas or corn, lightly cooked; diced tomatoes. Really, most any surplus or leftovers would do, if chopped into small enough pieces.
- 1/2 cup roasted pine nuts or slivered almonds
- Possible fresh herbs to add: 2 to 3 tablespoons finely minced mint, cilantro, parsley, chives, basil, or some combination thereof. You could also add tarragon or thyme, but since they’re stronger, use 1 to 2 teaspoons, finely minced.
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- In a sauce jug or bowl, mix the allium, zest (if using), juice, honey (if using), vinegar, olive oil and any ground spice you decide to use. Start with the smaller amount of the liquids, since the moisture level of the salad might vary with the various ingredients you add. Stir it into the couscous or quinoa.
- Stir in fruit and veggies. Add more juice, vinegar or oil if the salad seems too dry. At this point it’s fine to let the salad sit overnight in the fridge.
- Before serving, stir in the nuts and herbs. Adjust pepper and salt levels. Serve chilled, at room temperature, or even warmed.
- Leftovers happily survive refrigeration over the next day or two.